Legendary: Late Birmingham attorney saluted at special ceremony

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The Plunkett brothers, David (left) and Chris (right), are pictured with attorney Henry Gornbein at the November 20 “Legend of the Law” ceremony in honor of the late Tom Plunkett. For those who would like to contribute to the scholarship fund in his honor, donate by sending a check payable to: Thomas Plunkett Memorial Scholarship, c/o Detroit Mercy Law, 651 E. Jefferson Ave., Detroit, MI 48226.

Photo by John Meiu

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

Two years after his passing, a former Oakland County Prosecutor became a “Legend of the Law” last week in Birmingham, where he built a reputation as one of the most respected and honorable men in the state’s legal profession.

Tom Plunkett, who died in October 2017 at age 78 after an 18-month battle with esophageal cancer, was posthumously honored November 20 at a special reception hosted by the Oakland County Bar Foundation at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham.

The ceremony, which drew scores of prominent members of the bench and bar from the Detroit area, featured a televised interview of Plunkett that was broadcast just months before his death. The interview was conducted by attorney Henry Gornbein, a noted family law attorney who for the past 20 years has hosted an award winning local cable television show titled “Practical Law.”

“Tom Plunkett truly was a ‘Legend of the Law’ over the course of his career,” said Gornbein, a family law practitioner for more than 50 years. “He served Oakland County with distinction as an assistant prosecutor and then as its prosecuting attorney before moving into private practice for the balance of his career. He also was a positive force in the local and state bar associations.”

Plunkett’s two sons, David and Chris, were among those on hand for the event that also served as the launch for a scholarship fund in honor of their father. Creation of the fund, titled the Thomas G. Plunkett Memorial Scholarship at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, was spearheaded by such notable attorneys as Tom Ryan, a past president of the State Bar of Michigan; U.S. District Judge David Lawson; John Schaefer, a past president of the Oakland County Bar Association; and Rick Williams and Rick Rattner, former colleagues of Plunkett in the Birmingham law firm of Williams Williams Rattner & Plunkett.

Detroit Mercy Law Dean Phyllis Crocker said the fund will assist students with the costs of law school tuition.

“This scholarship will be an enduring and meaningful legacy for generations of law students to come,” said Crocker, dean of Detroit Mercy Law since 2014.

A past president of the OCBA, Plunkett grew up in northern Kentucky, the oldest of three children. He attended Thomas More College, a small liberal arts school near Cincinnati, where he met his wife, Ann, who would pursue a career in education after earning her master’s degree from the University of Michigan.

Following his college graduation, Plunkett was awarded a coveted scholarship to attend University of Detroit School of Law in 1960. He became an editor of the Law Journal there, earning a prized clerkship with Michigan Supreme Court Justice Thomas M. Kavanagh after graduation.

Upon joining the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office two years later, Plunkett continued his rapid rise, becoming Chief Assistant Prosecutor at the tender age of 26. In 1968, Plunkett was the choice of voters for the top post, at the time reportedly becoming the youngest elected prosecuting attorney in a major metropolitan area in the U.S.

Some two decades later, Plunkett was invited to join the Birmingham firm of Williams Schaefer Ruby & Williams. It proved to be a game-changer for the firm, according to Rick Williams, managing partner of what is now Williams Williams Rattner & Plunkett.

“For the next 30 years, we had the good fortune of working shoulder to shoulder with a man whose talents as an attorney were only exceeded by the depth of his character,” Williams said.
Now, the Plunkett legacy will live on as the first recipient of the “Legend of the Law” designation by the Oakland County Bar Foundation, according to Lynn Sirich, president of the OCBF.

“It is particularly fitting that he is recognized in this way,” said Sirich. “He made a lasting impact on the legal community in so many ways – as a public servant, a bar leader, and as a skilled attorney.”

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